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Election 1998

A look at past primaries

I think we can all agree that the 2018 Democratic primary season is already unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory. And since I like putting expressions like that into numbers, I thought I’d try to do it here. First, let’s compare the number of contested Democratic primaries across non-Presidential years:


Year   State  Congress  Lege
============================
1994      10        11    33
1998       3         6    19
2002       6         8    26
2006       4         5    20
2010       4         5    11
2014       4         6    13
2018       3        20    37

“Lege” includes both the Senate and the House. We only have three contested statewide primaries, but we do have an eight-candidate race for Governor, so that’s something different. The number of contested primaries for Congress and the Lege are higher than we’ve ever seen, and there’s still a day left to file. Remember also that there were a lot more Democrats in the Lege in 1994 than now. We have a lot of multi-candidate races this year for the right to face a Republican opponent or fill a Republican open seat.

The number of contested races is one thing, but the most visible measure of interest in an election is how many people vote in it. Here are the turnout levels for Democratic primaries going back to 1994:


Year      Total    Pct RV
=========================
1994  1,036,907    11.47%
1998    664,532     5.95%
2002  1,003,388     8.21%
2006    508,602     3.99%
2010    680,548     5.23%
2014    560,033     4.12%

“Pct RV” is the percentage of Democratic primary voters to all registered voters. There were more RVs in 2002 than there were in 1994, so even though the total number of voters was about the same, the share of RVs is lower. We don’t know what the turnout total will be for 2018 yet, but this should give us a goal, which I’d peg at one million votes at a minimum. There were just over 15 million registered voters as of this November – that number will like increase for March – so a goal of ten percent participation would set the target at 1.5 million. This is something I’ll be keeping an eye on. A new high water mark here would further the narrative of Democratic excitement. The same old thing will not.

Don’t expect the Kathie Glass effect to be much

Seems like every four years we talk about the possible effect of third party candidates on various races. Usually, it’s in the context of legislative races, where some candidates have won with less than 50% in recent years and one could make a case that the presence of a (usually) Libertarian candidate might have had an effect on the outcome. The subject came up for the Governor’s race a little while back, and I’m here to tamp down on any irrational exuberance.

Hop on the bus, Gus. Or don’t. Your call.

Don’t forget 1990.

That was the year a third-party candidate made a potentially game-changing difference in the Texas governor’s race, drawing slightly more than the number of votes separating Democratic winner Ann Richards from Republican Clayton Williams.

And while third-party gubernatorial candidates did not participate in Friday’s debate between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis, they could help decide who will be the next governor of Texas.

“Third-party candidates can mean a big difference in close elections,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Third parties can rarely win. Generally, [they] play a spoiler role.”

[…]

Observers say this year’s Nov. 4 general election could provide a number of close races where a third-party candidate might change the entire dynamics of a race.

“In these contests there exists the possibility that were one or more third-party candidates not on the ballot … the outcome of the election would [be] different,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

[…]

Political analysts say third-party candidates could make a difference in the governor’s race.

Abbott, the state’s attorney general and GOP nominee, squares off against Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth and Democratic nominee. Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Brandon Parmer are in the race as well.

If the race tightens up, Glass and Parmer combined could draw as little as 4 percent of the vote and impact the result.

“That could mean the difference in a very close election,” Saxe said.

After all, in 1990, Richards won by claiming 99,239 more votes than Williams, and Libertarian Jeff Daiell earned 129,128 votes.

“Overall, the principal impact of the Libertarian Party and Green Party candidates this fall will be to provide voters with a different perspective on how to address many of the key challenges facing the state today,” Jones said.

A key example, he said, is Glass, “who is far and away running the most visible and vibrant campaign of any third-party candidate in Texas.”

I will admit, I saw the Kathie Glass Bus on the side of the road as we were heading back from Austin on 290 a couple of weeks ago. I was tempted to take a picture of it, but I was driving at the time, and I didn’t think Tiffany would have appreciated me hauling out my cellphone at that moment. Maybe some other time. In any event, I will admit that as far as that goes, Glass’ campaign has been more visible than some other Libertarian campaigns of recent years.

Nonetheless, I’m going to play spoiler as well. Here’s a compilation of all third-party candidate performances in Texas gubernatorial races since 1990. See if you can spot the problem.

Year Lib Green Other Total Win % ======================================== 1990 3.32 0 0.30 3.62 48.19 1994 0.64 0 0 0.64 49.68 1998 0.55 0 0.02 0.57 49.72 2002 1.46 0.70 0.05 2.21 48.90 2006 0.60 0 0.01 0.61 49.69 2010 2.19 0.39 0.14 2.72 48.64

Notice how in none of these six elections how the combined Lib and Green (and write-in, which is what the Other above represents) total has reached four percent? In fact, outside of 1990, it’s never reached three percent? This could be the year that it happens – the Kathie Glass Bus is quite impressive, after all – but if you’re going to write this story, you ought to acknowledge the history. Don’t get our hopes up without justification.

It’s my opinion from looking at as many election results as I’ve seen over the years that the higher the profile the race, the lower the ceiling for third party candidates, our wacky 2006 Governor’s race excepted. Honestly, outside of the hardest of the hardcore political junkies and members of the third parties themselves, I doubt more than a handful of people even know who the L and G nominees are. With all due respect to Kathie Glass and her bus, the people that will be voting for her are basically the people that always vote Libertarian and the people that for whatever the reason didn’t like the nominee from the party that they tend to vote for no matter how much they protest their “independence”. Frankly, if the base party vote is reasonably close to even overall – which at this point I don’t think is likely, but I could be wrong – the place where an L and/or G candidate could affect the outcome is down ballot. I went through this exercise before, to show that one doesn’t need to get 50% of the vote to win most statewide races in Texas due to the presence of other candidates, and as you can see the higher totals for third party candidates tend to be in the lower profile races. I’m not saying that Kathie Glass and Brandon Parmer can’t have an effect on the outcome of the Governor’s race. I am saying that if I had to pick one race where there might be an effect, I’d probably pick Railroad Commissioner or Supreme Court justice. I promise to look at this again after the election.

On defining success

It depends on what your goals are.

Suppose you were a Texas Democrat and a realist.

You want your candidates to win in November and to break the spirit-killing string of losses that started after the statewide elections in 1994.

But you have been scratching for reasons that this year will be different, from the two women at the top of the Democratic ticket to the Battleground Texas organizing efforts to the current Republican tilt to the right that — to Democrats, anyway — seems out of step with mainstream voters.

But the realist within is thinking about Nov. 5, and how to keep the embers going on the day after an election that — unless there is an upset — will mark another set of Republican victories.

Short of winning a statewide election, what would constitute good news for Texas Democrats in November?

Jeremy Bird, a founder of the Battleground Texas effort to build a Democratic grassroots organization in the state, has his eyes on volunteers, energized activists and the sorts of activity that could expand through 2016 and 2018. His group started a little over a year ago with talk of a six-year plan to make Democrats competitive in Texas. The somewhat unexpected rise of state Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte as political candidates could accelerate that effort, even if neither takes office. His measure of a win, short of a victory: “Better than Bill White.”

White, a former Houston mayor, was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2010. He received 42.3 percent of the vote — better than any Democratic candidate for governor since Ann Richards’ loss in 1994, when she received 45.9 percent.

“Closing the margin is important; getting back to the Ann Richards numbers in 1994,” said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “There’s not much opportunity for pickups in the Legislature, but closing the margin would help set the table for 2016.”

Glenn Smith, who managed part of Richards’ first campaign for governor in 1990, is not a fan of this kind of thinking.

“It’s my extremely strong opinion that you play every contest to win,” said Smith, who now runs the Progress Texas PAC, which supports Democratic candidates and causes. “You set everything on winning. There is nothing else. If you start even mentally thinking that we’re okay at 46, then you might end up at 42. You can’t get in that mind-set. It’s true in sports, in every competitive walk of life — you have to set a course to win. You can’t begin cutting the goal to something short of winning, or your plans will suck.”

I’ll settle this: They’re all right.

Look, there’s no question that winning is always the goal and that losing is failure. There are no consolation prizes, no moral victories, and no partial credit. Greg Abbott will govern the same way whether he wins by one vote or one million votes, just as Rick Perry did when we were all calling him “Governor 39%”. So will Dan Patrick, and so will the rest of them. Another shutout means another four years of the same old shit we’ve had since George Bush was first elected.

That doesn’t mean all losses are created equal, however. Democrats haven’t just lost every statewide election since 1996, we’ve lost them badly. Here are the top five statewide Democrats by percentage of the vote in the Rick Perry era:

Year Candidate Office Pct ===================================== 2002 Sharp Lt Gov 46.03 2002 Mirabal Sup Ct 45.90 2008 Houston Sup Ct 45.88 2008 Strawn CCA 45.53 2006 Moody Sup Ct 44.88

It’s about changing the perception almost as much as it is about winning. Winning obviously does that splendidly, and it comes with a heaping helping of other benefits, but after all this losing, coming close will mean something, too. Going from “Democrats last won a statewide election in 1994” to “Democrats came closer to winning statewide than they had in any election since 1998” matters. It will make recruiting and fundraising a lot easier, and not just for the star candidate or two at the top but for candidates up and down the ballot. It virtually guarantees that Hillary Clinton contests the state in 2016. It puts Ted Cruz squarely in the crosshairs for 2018.

As such, I respectfully disagree with Jeremy Bird. Doing better than Bill White isn’t progress. We need to do better than John Sharp. I’ve been reluctant to say stuff like this out loud – it’s not my place to set expectations – but the question was going to come up sooner or later. It’s not just about vote percentage, either, but also about turnout, since that’s what Battleground Texas’ mission is. I’ve talked at length about turnout and how Democratic levels of turnout have been flat in the last three off-year elections. I can’t say offhand what a minimally-acceptable level of improvement in that looks like to me, but I feel confident saying that if we’re achieving Sharp levels of vote percent, we’re doing fine on turnout.

Let’s also acknowledge that the original mission of Battleground Texas was to make Texas competitive in future Presidential elections, and that when they first showed up Wendy Davis was just another State Senator and we were all (okay, I was all) doing fantasy candidate recruitment for Governor. Davis’ arrival on the scene and BGTx’s integration with her campaign changed their focus, but they were never supposed to be about 2014. The whole point was that unlike traditional campaign machines, BGTx would stick around and keep working for the next election and the one after that. Obviously, having serious candidates that have generated real excitement at the top of the ticket has jumpstarted BGTx’s efforts, but it’s reasonable to expect that BGTx has their own metrics and their own timeline.

So yeah, they’re all right. And just because I’ve drawn a line somewhere doesn’t obligate anyone to recognize or respect it. We all agree that winning >>> losing, but beyond that it’s all open to interpretation.

Of course some people will split their votes

It’s just a matter of how many of them do so, and if the races in question are close enough for it to matter.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Democrats are hoping the Republicans will eventually make some of the mistakes Democrats themselves made back when they were on top and the GOP was trying to break down the doors of power. They ran candidates — particularly at the national level — who were too liberal for conservative Texas Democrats to stomach. They developed a split between conservatives and liberals that made it possible for Republicans to peel away the conservatives and form the beginnings of what is now a solid Republican majority.

The notion behind the current Van de Putte proposition is that — to Democrats — Patrick is so extreme that even some Republicans will rebel and vote for the Democrat. In a debate with Patrick this year, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro said the Houston Republican would be the Democrats’ “meal ticket” in November.

The differences between the two top candidates (there are also a Libertarian, a Green and an independent in the race) are stark: gender, ethnicity, party, ideology, roots. She is likely to attack his positions on immigration, health care, abortion, equal pay and education. He is likely to attack her positions on some of those same things, characterizing her as a liberal who wants to expand government and poisoning his darts with the unpopularity of the Democratic president.

To be the only Democratic statewide winner in November, Van de Putte would need to make sure Patrick doesn’t perform as well as Greg Abbott. And that requires one to imagine the voter who will vote for Abbott and then turn and vote for Van de Putte — who will vote against Wendy Davis for governor and against Patrick for lieutenant governor. Republicans are betting there won’t be many of those. Democrats are hoping that women and minorities will have an allergic reaction to his rhetoric and positions, creating an opportunity for their candidate.

It happened before, but this was a different state when voters elected George W. Bush, a Republican, and Bob Bullock, a Democrat, to the top two positions on the ballot. It nearly happened again four years later, when Bush won re-election against Garry Mauro by 37 percentage points and Republican Rick Perry beat Democrat John Sharp by less than 2 points in the race for lieutenant governor.

It’s true you have to go back to 1994 to find an example of a party split at the top of state government, but you don’t have to go back nearly that far to find a significant split in how people voted for those two offices. Just in 2010, more than 300,000 people voted for Bill White and David Dewhurst. That always gets overlooked because the races were not close in 2010, making White’s effort little more than a footnote, but the point is simply that people – many people – can and will split their vote in the right set of circumstances.

We also saw plenty of examples of this in 2012, though not at the statewide level. Congressman Pete Gallego, State Rep. Craig Eiland, and *ahem* State Sen. Wendy Davis all won races in districts that voted majority Republican otherwise. In Harris County, some 40,000 people voted for Mitt Romney and Adrian Garcia, while in the other direction another fifteen or twenty thousand voted for Barack Obama and Mike Anderson. In all of these cases, those ticket splitters very much did matter – the first three could not have won without them, while the latter two could have gone either way, as Harris County was basically 50-50 that year. This is why the efforts of Battleground Texas mean so much. Democrats have to get their base vote up, or else it won’t matter how much crossover appeal Leticia Van de Putte – or Wendy Davis, or Sam Houston, or Mike Collier – may have. It’s not either-or, it’s both or nothing.

SEC complaint filed against Paxton

We’ll see if anything comes of this.

Sen. Ken Paxton

Days after Texas regulators fined Sen. Ken Paxton $1,000 for working for a financial firm without registering with the state, a plaintiff’s lawyer filed a similar complaint with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Paxton, a McKinney state senator and the Republican front-runner in the primary runoff for attorney general, said through a spokesman the complaint is baseless and politically timed to drum up negative media against his campaign just 11 days before early voting begins.

[…]

The claims and counterclaims by Branch and Paxton began last month.

It was fueled further recently when the State Securities Board slapped Paxton with a $1,000 fine for acting as an “investment adviser representative” for Mowery Capital Management, which provides estate planning and investment management, without obtaining state registration.

Following the state action, Longview lawyer John Sloan filed a complaint with the SEC.

“I couldn’t see the guy getting away with that,” Sloan said. “He must feel like he’s above the law.”

The Paxton campaign questioned the timing of the complaint.

Sloan represented a Dallas couple in a 2009 lawsuit against Paxton that was voluntarily dismissed.

Former U.S. Attorney Matt Orwig, in a statement made available by the Paxton campaign, said the Sloan complaint in the middle of a “hotly contested political campaign” is suspicious.

“It appears to be more of a political stunt than a serious complaint given that the issues appear to have been resolved in other venues,” Orwig said.

Former state and federal regulators said it was doubtful the complaint would trigger an SEC investigation.

See here and here for the background. It would be nice to have an objective opinion on the complaint instead of just one from someone that is apparently connected to Paxton’s campaign. As far as the timing goes, when exactly was it supposedly to be filed? We only just found out about Paxton’s peccadilloes and the wrist slap he received for them. And as for the SEC not being likely to act on the complaint, is that normal or is it a statement about the complaint’s merit? Sure, this could be a political stunt – Sloan would appear to have motive – but I can’t get a feel for that from this story. What do you think?

On a tangential note, this Trib story sees a parallel between the current GOP runoff for AG and the one in 1998, when John Cornyn overtook Barry Williamson after the latter got bogged down in stories about his law license lapsing. I wasn’t paying very much attention to that race so I can’t say just how much alike that one is to this one, but for what it’s worth Paxton just lost the endorsement of another law enforcement group for his travails. So who knows?

Collier’s sales tax criticism of Hegar makes the news

That’s how you do it.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Democrat Mike Collier, a certified public accountant from Houston, will start airing television ads criticizing opponent Glenn Hegar, a Republican state senator from Katy, for his support to phase out property taxes and increase state sales taxes.

Collier and Hegar are vying to replace outgoing Comptroller Susan Combs, a Republican.

The 30-second ad, which will air in Houston, uses video of Hegar touting his position at a January meeting of We The People-Longview Tea Party.

“I don’t like the property tax, never have,” Hegar says in the video. “I think we should replace it. The best thing to replace it with is a consumption-type tax, a sales tax per se.”

Later in the ad, a male announcer says, “Mike Collier has a better plan: Forecast revenues accurately. Invest in our schools. And, hold the line on taxes.”

[…]

Local property taxes account for roughly 47 percent of tax revenue in Texas, according to a 2012 report from the comptroller’s office. State and local sales taxes make up 32 percent of revenue.

Another 2012 study – written by former deputy comptroller Billy Hamilton and published by a Republican group called Texas Tax Truth – said consumers would have to pay up to 25 percent in state sales tax to make up for the approximate $45 billion in lost revenue caused by abolishing property taxes.

“There’s no way that Hegar can make a sensible convincing policy point that we should get rid of the property tax in favor of a broader, larger sales tax,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientistat Southern Methodist University.

And, the shift from property taxes would deprive local governments, school districts and other entities of their primary method of revenue collection, said John Kennedy, an analyst at Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. That would mean municipalities would have to rely primarily on the state to finance their operations.

See here for the background. Via TrailBlazers, here’s the ad in question:

Can I just say how excellent it is to have a competent Democratic candidate running for Comptroller? Here’s who we had in the past three elections:

2010: Nobody
2006: Fred Head
2002: Marty Akins

Arguably, that’s in descending order of effectiveness. I could be persuaded to swap Head and Akins. Basically, Collier is the first serious Comptroller candidate we’ve had since Paul Hobby. It’s a beautiful thing.

But, Collier’s line of attack isn’t guaranteed to stick, Jillson said. The Nov. 4 election is seven months away and voters may not remember a fight over taxes from April, he said.

Jason Stanford, a consultant working on the Collier campaign, said the Democrat’s team plans to maintain this line of attack through the November election.

“We can’t play this race according to the old rule book,” Stanford said. “We have to make this race about actual ideas and competence.”

The thing is, Collier could keep up this line of attack all the way through November without ever repeating himself, because there’s so many ways Hegar’s tax swap is attackable. Consider:

– Local taxing entities – counties, cities, school districts – would essentially cede all taxing authority to the state. Do you want local control over your city and school district budgets, or do you want to hand all that to Austin?

– Do you want to start paying $25,000 for a $20,000 car? With Glenn Hegar’s tax plan, you will.

– Unless you own a million dollar home, your taxes are going up. Unless you live in a place with a lot of retail activity, your city and your schools are going to get screwed.

– Can you imagine the black market that will spring up with a 25% sales tax? The Comptroller’s office will have to become an arm of the IRS to ensure adequate collections.

And on and on. Collier will still have to raise the money to get that message out, but having that message will likely make it easier to raise the dough. There’s no downside here. Burka and EoW have more.

It’s the vote spread that matters

I had an email conversation with Judge Mark Davidson regarding my post about straight-ticket voting and its effect on judicial races. He said I misunderstood the point he was trying to make in that Chron story. From his email, quoted with permission:

Your analysis fails to look at what I call the “Straight Ticket Judicial Vote” as opposed to the straight ticket vote. The STJV is the total vote cast by the trailing Judicial votegetter of each party. The assumption is that anyone voting for that person got the votes they did for one reason only – their party affiliation. That was the 97.2% the article referred to.

When I got elected in 1988, and for the election cycles on both sides of that year, the % of STJV was about 85%. In other words, 15% of the voters cast a two party judicial ballot. If that were still the case, there would be fewer mullets elected judge (of both parties). The point I made to the Chron reporter that called was that at least the people who were going through the ballot and casting votes for every candidate of both parties were thinking a little on who to vote for, unlike the lever pullers.

Judge Davidson is correct, that’s not what I looked at, and I didn’t grasp what he was getting at when I wrote that post. Which wouldn’t have really changed what I wrote, because I was specifically intending to address Sen. Dan Patrick’s bill and the uncritical accolades he has received for filing it. My point was that straight-ticket voting, whatever you may think of it, has hardly had the effect on judicial races that is being ascribed to it. The numbers here and elsewhere clearly prove that. That was my point.

But Judge Davidson raises a good point as well, one I hadn’t considered. And since it involves numbers, I’m constitutionally incapable of not digging into them. He calculates the STJV number by adding the percentage of the low-scoring judicial candidates from each party, so here’s a look at the STJVs for the elections that are listed on the County Clerk’s webpage:

2012 – 97.5
2010 – 96.1
2008 – 95.9
2006 – 96.8
2004 – 97.9
2002 – 95.0
2000 – 95.2
1998 – 94.3
1996 – 88.3

Judge Davidson includes the 1st and 14th Appeals Court candidates in his calculation, so I did the same here. This does have an effect on the numbers, as Eric Andell carried Harris County in 2000, thus dropping the low Republican score to under 50. Limit the reckoning to Harris County-only races, and you’d get 97.6 for 2000 (there were all of two contested non-Appeals Court races that year, as previously noted). Margaret Mirabal also carried Harris County in 1996, but Katie Kennedy won a District Court race with a higher score, so Mirabal’s performance had no effect.

Looking at these numbers, it strikes me that there’s nothing about Judge Davidson’s metric to invalidate the point I’ve been making. Since low-profile, low-information races like most judicial races are generally considered barometers of partisan preference, the STJV can be seen as a measure of how many people are voting for a party rather than a candidate in a judicial race. You can see why a lower number would generally be preferable. The thing is, though, that there’s not that much difference between the STJV scores in the years where Republicans were sweeping the judicial races and the two recent years in which both parties claimed victories. Indeed, it’s the year 2004 that had the highest STJV score, just as 2004 had a higher rate of straight-ticket voting than 2008, even though it was the latter year that started all this hand-wringing and pearl-clutching about the arbitrariness of straight-ticket voting, as if it had never been an issue in years before. That more than anything is what chaps me about the pious “reforms” being proffered by the likes of Sen. Patrick and the enabling he’s getting from the media. Where was all this concern between 1998 and 2006?

To be clear, despite my sniping in that earlier post, Judge Davidson does get this. Here’s more of what he said, after I responded to his initial email. I suggested that one might conclude from what he has been saying that an appointment system would be better than our partisan election system for judges:

I am against an appointment system. Always have been. Always will be.

What I told the Chron is that our system works just great in counties with a population under about 60,000. In, say, San Angelo, if there is a bad judge, everyone in the county knows about it. A bad judge in San Angelo will lose regardless of party affiliation.

The answer is more voter information about the judges. We had that back in the late eighties and early nineties, when the DJVs were in the mid teens. If the % of people voting a SPJV were to go from 97% to 85% again, the chances of a bozo of either party getting elected diminishes greatly. The last few cycles, the judicial candidates of both parties spent all of their money, not into educating the public about themselves, but on party material. This is, in part, the problem. I concede that where you have 40 judicial races on a ballot it is difficult for any one to stand out. To a limited but critical extent, that is what was going on in the late eighties. The voters’ guides then were printed by both newspapers. There are none today.

You are right that I cannot expect a million voters to be made aware of the qualifications of all judicial candidates. But the number should be more than 29,000! If the number of voters casting a two party judicial ballot could go back to, say, 100,000, there would not be a problem.

I agree that it’s harder to get away with being a bozo in a smaller electorate, though the extreme partisan split of Tom Green County, where San Angelo is the county seat, might be too high a wall a Democrat to scale, even against a Republican bozo. Be that as it may, I take his point, and absolutely agree with the idea of more publicly available information about judges and judicial candidates as the best way forward. Again, one of the strange things about this debate is that it’s happening at a time when we actually have members of both parties winning judicial races in Harris County. Before 2008, the last time that happened was Kennedy’s win in 1996. I’ll stipulate that split partisan results do not necessarily equate to optimally meritorious results, but I continue to be amazed by the fact that only now that Democrats are winning most of these races is it a political problem to be dealt with by such famous non-partisans as Dan Patrick.

Of course, getting good, objective information out to the voters is easier said than done. Back in 1988, there were only so many ways to spread news. Put a story in the Chron and the Post and you were good. Nowadays, well, you know what the scene is like. Even if you could be confident in your distribution channels, ensuring that the data is objective, and more importantly is seen as objective by the audience, will be a big challenge. I’m open to suggestion if anyone has any thoughts on this.

Anyway. Whatever you think the problems are with our system of making judges, the points I’m trying to make are 1) they didn’t just magically appear beginning in 2008, when the Democrats first started winning judicial races again; by every measure I can come up with, it had been like this for at least a decade, and 2) fixing these shortfalls will require more than simple, bumper-sticker solutions. Every approach has its pros and cons, and we can’t fix anything unless we really understand what it is we’re trying to fix and why our proposed alternative gains more than it loses. I promise, I’ll quit complaining about this if we ever get to that. My thanks to Judge Davidson for the feedback and the opportunity to explore this from another angle.

Pity the poor judges

It’s hard out here on a judge.

For longer than anyone remembers, you had to be a Democrat to be a district judge in Texas – or just about any other political office. When the Democratic Party split apart in the South over civil rights, Republicans gained the upper hand, so much so that by 1998 you had to have an “R” next to your name to have a shot at statewide office.

Recent election results show little change overall for the Lone Star State, still known as the reddest of the red. But in its largest metropolitan area, a new look is emerging. If the latest general election is fair measure, Harris County today is a brilliant, deep purple, almost evenly split between the two major parties.

And nowhere does that cause more discomfort than the county courthouse, where judges suddenly find themselves with none of the job security that has often accompanied the job. Partisan dominance meant that if you reached the bench – often via political appointment – you had a reasonable chance of staying there for awhile. Now local judges are buffeted by political winds beyond their control, and they face the distinct possibility of losing their job just as they have figured out how to do it.

Former Judge Mark Davidson, who often ranked at or near the top in local judicial polls, lost his bench in the Barack Obama tidal wave of 2008. He does not like what he sees now, with a polarized electorate voting along party lines, and he has no intention of running again soon.

“To run and know it doesn’t matter anything about my or my opponent’s qualifications – that the outcome may be determined by who is on the top of the ticket and people will vote on criteria other than my service as a trial judge – is not something I choose to do,” Davidson said.

[…]

What that means for the future is unclear, in part because it’s unfamiliar territory. Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister, who spent more than a decade as a district judge in Harris County, predicts it will be harder to recruit good potential judges because of the uncertainty factor. If races are going to be narrowly decided and influenced heavily by the names at the top of the ticket, why would a successful, talented lawyer give up a comfortable practice for less pay and more risk?

“In a close county like Harris County is now, being an incumbent doesn’t help you,” Brister said. “The odds are 50-50. You leave your practice and will be making less money, and you have to be constantly worried whether you will keep the job. If you lose after one term, all your clients are gone to somewhere else and you have to build your practice all over again. That makes it real difficult to convince someone to run.”

Of course, one way to solve this would be to go back to the good old days of one-party dominance in Harris County. I sure don’t remember all this hand-wringing about how hard it was to be a judge, never knowing what the voters might do to you, back when the November elections were pre-determined. If nothing changes about how we make judges and the Democrats sweep the judiciary in 2016, thus providing a third term to all those judges that were re-elected this year, will that make Mark Davidson and Scott Brister happy? Mark Bennett makes hash of Davidson’s complaint.

The story then predictably goes into straight-ticket voting and Sen. Dan Patrick’s bill to eliminate it for judicial races, which has the hearts of people like Patti Hart and the Chron’s editorial board going pitter-pat. One of the many ironies of all this is that of the 32 district and civil court judicial races in which the Chron made an endorsement this year, 25 of their preferred candidates won. That’s a 78% success rate, which ain’t too shabby for a bunch of lazy, ignorant voters, as they so nicely characterized the straight-ticket people.

Another irony for you: As Mark noted in his post, the straight ticket vote for each party this year basically canceled each other out. Indeed, the Democratic advantage from straight ticket voting in 2012 was a paltry 2,836 votes – 406,991 to 404,165 in favor of the Democrats. Would you like to know how many Democratic judges won re-election by 2,836 votes or less? Exactly one: Kyle Carter of the 125th District Court, who remained a judge by 1,694 votes. Every other winning Democratic judge had a margin that exceeded the straight-ticket margin: Michael Gomez, the next closest winner, won by 4,071 votes, Jaclanel McFarland won by 5,083, and Ruben Guerrero, Mark Bennett’s least favorite judge, won by 9,015. Every other victorious Democrat won by a five-figure margin, so if you accept the premise that only the non-straight-ticket voters really know what they’re doing, then you should be glad, because they decided all but one of the judicial races. Dan Patrick’s bill is basically about Kyle Carter.

But wait, there’s more. In those halcyon days of Republican hegemony for which Mark Davidson and Scott Brister pine, surely they were aided by straight-ticket voting dominance as well, right? Well, thanks to the magic of the Internet, we can check. Election results on the County Clerk webpage go back through 1996. Here’s how those elections went.

In 1996, straight ticket voting was as follows:

STR – 200,731
STD – 211,533

So Democrats had a 10,802 vote advantage, which did them exactly no good: The only judicial race won by a Democrat was that of Katie Kennedy, whose margin of victory was over 66,000 votes. Republicans won all the other races.

Here’s 1998:

STR – 157,516
STD – 143,783

Now the Rs have the advantage, of just under 14,000 votes. Their smallest margin of victory in a judicial race was about 23,000 votes, meaning that again, straight-ticket voting made no difference to the outcomes.

How about 2000?

STR – 260,705
STD – 264,747

Yes, believe it or not, Democrats had the straight-ticket advantage, even with George Bush at the top of the ticket. And again, it mattered not at all. There were exactly 2 contested judicial races – 337th and County Court At Law #1, both of which the Dems lost. Boy, were these the days or what?

On to 2002:

STR – 185,606
STD – 171,594

The Rs regain the advantage, and again it’s meaningless, as the closest judicial race was decided by 41,000 votes. Will straight-ticket voting ever matter?

The answer is yes, it does, in 2004:

STR – 370,455
STD – 325,097

You would think that with a 45,000 vote advantage in straight-ticket voting, that would be critical to overall Republican success. But it only mattered in one judicial race, the 334th, where Sharon McCally defeated Kathy Stone by 41,813 votes. Republicans won every other judicial race by at least 60,000 votes.

Here’s 2006:

STR – 137,663
STD – 145,865

Another Democratic advantage that amounts to diddly squat, as the Rs once again sweep the judicial races. I suppose you could put an asterisk next to Jim Sharp, who carried Harris County by 1,291 votes in his race for the First Court of Appeals, but since he lost that race it hardly seems worth the effort.

Finally, we come to the two years that everyone agrees is where straight ticket voting was the deal-sealer for the Ds and the Rs, respectively. It’s true that in 2008, the Democratic advantage in straight-ticket voting – 391,488 to 343,919 – is larger than the margin of victory for all victorious Democratic judicial candidate. But look, Democrats didn’t nearly sweep the judiciary in 2008 because of straight-ticket voting, they won all those races because more Democrats voted in Harris County than ever before, and it was that combination of juiced turnout and long-awaited demographic change that did it for them. I suppose you could argue that had the straight-ticket option been outlawed that enough Democratic voters might have quit voting before making it all the way to the end of the ballot to have let some number of Republican judges survive, but if you do make that argument can you really also claim it was because of their merit as judges that saved them? Besides, in the absence of straight-ticket voting its entirely plausible that enough Republican voters would have failed to complete the ballot to cancel things out, and we’d have had approximately the same results as we actually did. We’ll never know, and it’s presumptuous to think we do. Remember, as I’ve noted many times, there was a lot more Republican undervoting in 2004 downballot than there was Democratic undervoting. We just don’t know what might have happened.

You may be thinking at this point “But isn’t the issue that so many more votes are being cast as straight-ticket these days”? It’s true that the trend is upward, but it’s less than you might think. And despite the wailing over 2008, it wasn’t a high-water mark for straight tickets. In 2004, 64.22% of all ballots cast were straight-ticket, 698,895 of 1,088,793. In 2008, the share of straight-ticket ballots dropped to 62.20%, as 739,424 of 1,188,731 were so cast. Did you know that there were more straight-ticket votes cast as a percentage of turnout in 2004 than in 2008, the year in which straight-ticket voting suddenly became this massive problem that had to be solved? I didn’t until I did the research for this post. I’ll bet you $10,000 of Mitt Romney’s money that no one at the Chron knew it, either. As for 2012, the share was 67.91%, 817,692 out of 1,204,167. My guess is that just as there appears to be a limit to how many people will vote early, there’s likely also a limit to how many people will push the straight-ticket button, and we’re probably pretty close to it.

Oh, and in 2010, the year that straight-ticket voting supposedly gave the Republicans back the bench? They did have a huge advantage in straight ticket votes – 290,355 to 240,479 – but as it happens, their closest victory in a judicial race was just over 57,000 votes, with most races being decided by 80,000 or more. Republicans won in 2010 because they turned out at historic, unprecedented levels, plain and simple. The belief that straight-ticket voting is the key to victory is a myth, a shibboleth, and if it’s not clear by now that this is all about the 2008 results, then it’s not the straight-ticket voters who are lazy and ignorant.

I have more to say on this subject, but this post is long enough. Again, I agree that our system of making judges is problematic, but straight-ticket voting is not the problem, and eliminating it is not a solution. It’s a feel-good measure cloaking a partisan intention, and it should be seen as such.

Maybe Perry for President would be good for us

When George W. Bush began being talked about as a Presidential candidate, the story line on him was that he was a well-liked, popular Governor who had bipartisan appeal and support in the state. Outgoing Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock supported him. Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney supported him. Numerous Democratic officeholders in Texas supported him. On the strength of all that, he went on to win Texas by 20 or more points in 2000 and 2004.

Now consider Rick Perry. “Well-liked” and “bipartisan appeal” are not words you would ever associate with him. As for “popular”, it’s true that he has strong support within the Republican Party, which would certainly be an asset in another primary, and it’s true that he won big against a strong, well-funded Democratic opponent this past year. But consider how he did compared to other Republicans on the ballot:

Candidate Votes Pct ============================ Perry 2,737,481 54.97% Porter 2,880,765 59.40% Green 2,903,359 60.02% Keasler 2,906,012 60.48% Lehrmann 2,907,796 59.87% Guzman 2,919,054 60.34% Staples 2,953,775 60.82% Patterson 3,001,736 61.66% Dewhurst 3,049,109 61.78% Abbott 3,151,064 64.05%

Perry received 200,000 to 400,000 fewer votes than other Republicans at the top of the ticket. Those votes went to Democrat Bill White, who got more than 300,000 more votes than the next best Dem on the ticket. He ran six to nine points behind his ballot mates. Compare this to Bush’s gubernatorial re-election in 1998:

Candidate Votes Pct ============================ Bush 2,550,821 68.23% Perry 1,858,837 50.04% Cornyn 2,002,794 54.25% Rylander 1,821,231 49.54% Dewhurst 2,072,604 57.42% Combs 2,021,385 56.29% Garza 2,051,253 56.92% Enoch 2,049,640 58.18% O'Neill 1,891,339 53.52% Abbott 2,104,828 60.10% Hankinson 1,995,811 56.90% Keasler 1,889,069 53.96% Johnson 2,013,959 57.78%

The contrast couldn’t be clearer. A significant number of Democrats voted for Bush in 1998. A significant number of Republicans did not vote for Perry in 2010. And before you ask, no these wayward Republicans did not choose Libertarian Kathie Glass instead. In fact, Glass did worse than every other Lib in a three-way or more race, both in terms of vote total and percentage:

Candidate Votes Pct ============================ Glass 109,211 2.19% Jameson 122,142 2.47% Roland 112,118 2.27% Holdar 148,271 3.04% Donaldson 164,035 3.37% Gary 138,978 2.86% Strange 138,857 2.85% Oxford 144,306 2.98% Armstrong 195,234 4.03% Virasin 139,299 2.89%

So what does this have to do with a Presidential campaign? Well, Perry has no crossover appeal – he has anti-appeal, as a non-trivial number of Republicans won’t vote for him. A six point swing in 2008, about the difference between Perry and Todd Staples from last year, would have been enough to put Barack Obama ahead of John McCain in 2008. To put it another way, having Rick Perry at the top of the ticket next year could do more to make Texas a swing state than anything anyone else has ever done.

Now obviously not all of those Republicans who voted for Bill White instead of Rick Perry last year would vote for Barack Obama. Some would, but many – likely most – would not. But even a three point swing would make things a lot closer; it would have been enough to elect Sam Houston, and would have brought Susan Strawn within a tenth of a percent. Obama still has room to grow among Democrats in Texas, both in terms of better turnout among registered voters, and as we’ll see later holding onto Democratic voters in some parts of the state. How much room do you think Rick Perry has to grow?

Of course there are plenty of other factors to consider here, the economy being first and foremost. If we learned one thing from the 2010 experience, it’s that where you start out and where you end up can be very different, and no one can say what will happen till the campaigning actually begins. As we’ve discussed, Obama consistently polled between eight and 12 points behind McCain in 2008. Wouldn’t you love to see a poll of Texas that matches up Perry and Obama? (Rasmussen has a national poll that shows Obama leading Perry 45-28, but that’s a function of name recognition.) I don’t think Perry does any better in Texas than McCain did against Obama. Maybe I’m wrong and Perry would have a comfortable double-digit lead in a poll that has a reasonable model for a Presidential year. And maybe I’m right and Perry is unable to top 50% and up by only a few. How do you suppose that might change the narrative of this little buzzlet?

Like I said, just a thought. I could very easily be wrong. But either way, I hope that a PPP or someone like them puts a poll in the field, just for grins. Who knows, maybe the result might surprise us.

Once again, I’ll take the under

There’s a bizarre new UT/Texas Trib poll that’s so odd I can’t even come up with a good introduction for it, so I’m just going to jump straight to the weirdness:

Republican Gov. Rick Perry leads his Democratic challenger, Bill White by 10 points — 50 percent to 40 percent — in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, which was conducted in the days leading up to early voting. Libertarian Kathie Glass has the support of 8 percent of respondents; Deb Shafto of the Green Party gets 2 percent.

[…]

• In the race for lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst is leading Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson 51 percent to 38 percent. Libertarian Scott Jameson has 9 percent, while the Green Party’s Herb Gonzales Jr. has 2 percent.

• Attorney General Greg Abbott leads Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky 55 percent to 35 percent. Libertarian Jon Roland has 11 percent (when the total here and elsewhere doesn’t add up to 100 percent, rounding is the culprit).

• Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs, the only major-party candidate in her race, has the support of 51 percent, while Libertarian Mary Ruwart pulls 11 percent and Ed Lindsay of the Green Party has 9 percent. This is the only contest in the poll in which undecided voters were not pushed to make a choice; as such, 29 percent of respondents identified themselves as undecided.

• Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is leading Democrat Hector Uribe 50 percent to 37 percent in his bid for re-election, with Libertarian James Holdar garnering 12 percent.

• Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples leads Democrat Hank Gilbert by the same margin: 50 percent to 37 percent. Libertarian Rick Donaldson has 12 percent.

• In the race for a slot on the Railroad Commission that is the only open seat on the statewide ballot, Republican David Porter leads Democrat Jeff Weems 50 percent to 34 percent, with Libertarian Roger Gary at 10 percent and Art Browning of the Green Party at 5 percent.

I’m not sure what is more surprising, the numbers received by the Libertarian candidates in these polls, or (as one commenter said) the fact that Ross Ramsey could write this story without once making note of them. How out of the ordinary are the Libertarian numbers? I went through every statewide election result on the Secretary of State webpage going back to 1992. Here are the best performances by year of a Libertarian candidate in contested statewide races:

Year Race Candidate Pct ========================================= 2008 RRC David Lloyd 3.51 2006 Lt Gov Judy Baker 4.35 2004 RRC Anthony Garcia 3.59 2002 Land Comm Barbara Hernandez 4.12 2000 Senate Mary Ruwart 1.15 1998 Land Comm Monte Montez 2.72 1996 Sup Ct Eileen Flume 3.64 1994 RRC Buster Crabb 3.15 1992 RRC Richard Draheim 6.98

A couple of notes: The Senate race in 2000 was the only non-Presidential contest that had an R and a D in it at the state level. 1996 featured the only appearance of the Natural Law Party; they were in three state races, including the Presidential race, and topped out at 0.75%, though they did break 1% in some Congressional contests.

And then there’s 1992, which features the number that most likely jumps out at you, Richard Draheim’s 6.98%. That race featured Democratic incumbent Lena Guerrero, who had been appointed to the Railroad Commission by then-Governor Ann Richards. During the election campaign it was revealed that she had lied about getting a degree from UT, which turned into a huge scandal that sent her campaign into a ditch. I’ve no doubt that this was the main contributor to Draheim’s unparalleled performance. Yet even under those circumstances, it’s not in the 8 to 12 percent range that UT/TT is crediting this year’s crop of Ls with.

You can, I trust, see why I’m skeptical. If that’s not enough, note that in the past four Governor’s races, the best any Libertarian candidate has done is 1.46%, considerably less than what UT/TT claims Glass to be polling at. I’d set the over/under in all of these races at 4%, and I’d take the under on all of them. No other poll has shown anything like this, including the two previous results from UT/TT. How they could fail to remark on these highly remarkable numbers is a mystery to me. BOR has more.

Schieffer jumps in

We have a candidate, one not named Kinky.

Former U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth has just announced he is taking his first formal step toward seeking the Democratic nomination for governor during a Texas Independence Day press conference in the State Capitol.

“At the very time when Texas desperately needs leadership, people worry that we are experiencing a crisis of leadership,” said Schieffer, the younger brother of CBS newsman Bob Schieffer.

Schieffer, who was still overcoming a bout with laryngitis, said he and his wife, Susanne Silber Schieffer, made a final decision about the race on Sunday.

Schieffer, 61, has been moving toward becoming a candidate since returning to Texas at the end of the Bush Administration in January after serving as Bush’s ambassador to Australia and Japan. The Schieffers traveled more than 4,000 miles around the perimeter of Texas in a homecoming road trip that reacquainted them with potential voters.

[…]

Before becoming a diplomat in the Bush administration, Schieffer was an investor in the partnership that bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in 1989, with Bush and Edward W. “Rusty” Rose. Schieffer served as team president for eight years, running the club’s day-to-day operations and overseeing the building of the Rangers’ ballpark in Arlington.

Politically, Schieffer, a Fort Worth attorney, was identified with the conservative-moderate wing of the Texas Democratic Party during the 1970s and 1980s and was active in the campaigns of such high-profile Democrats as U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Gov. Mark White and Fort Worth Congressman Pete Geren. He was elected to the State Legtislature in 1972, at the age of 25, and served three terms.

OK, technically, Schieffer is still exploring, and won’t officially make up his mind for another two or three months. My guess is that unless someone who can lure away much of his financial support comes along, he’s in for real. You can read Schieffer’s prepared remarks here (PDF). Glenn Smith reacts favorably. McBlogger was already on board – he sees Sen. Van de Putte as a better fit at Lt. Guv. I can certainly see the merit in that, though if she decides to go for the top spot it certainly won’t break my heart. EoW is still skeptical, but willing to hear what Schieffer has to say. Vince is more skeptical.

I think LizeB summarizes the issue with Schieffer as succinctly as possible:

I’m having a tough time getting my mind around not regretting voting for Bush 4 times and wanting to be Dem candidate for guv.

I suspect we’ll hear the name “Tony Sanchez” a lot in the coming weeks. I can deal with Schieffer’s Bush associations – as McB says, there’s a lot of Dems out there who have them, and we need to come to terms with it. I’m pretty open-minded on this – I’ve advocated welcoming exiles (self-imposed and otherwise) from the Republican Party to our ranks, including as candidates. Schieffer’s much less of a concern on that score. What does concern me is that Schieffer is a man from a different era, coming home at a time when the state and the Democratic Party don’t look anything like his heyday. I want to know what Schieffer has to say about today’s issues, today’s direction of each party, and today’s solutions. I once said that I couldn’t “shake the feeling that [John] Sharp is a 1990 candidate wanting to run in 2010”, but at least he’s run for office in this century. I need to know Schieffer isn’t an oldies act, because that just isn’t going to do the job. He’s got the Lone Star Project on his side, and that will help address some of these issues, but that’s just a start. I look forward to hearing more, and the sooner the better.

UPDATE: BOR has video.